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August 29, 2013

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A United Methodist Insight Exclusive

For almost 10 years, United Methodists who advocate for boycott, divestment, and/or sanctions (BDS) as a strategy for peace in the Middle East have promoted their recommendations as a "moral imperative" for United Methodists. However, this approach diverts energy from the restorative paths that Jesus demonstrated and complicates legitimate diplomacy efforts by official leadership. By exacerbating the complicated conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, BDS advocates seek to arouse public opinion, which they believe is the only force powerful enough to bring the parties to a negotiated settlement.

Recently a few annual conferences have considered or adopted resolutions proposing divestment in an attempt to influence public opinion about Israel’s security measures that oppress Palestinians. Threats of punitive measures such as boycott and divestment certainly make headlines, but it is more heartening to see how gestures of hope and respect are moving Israel and Palestine into dialogue and negotiations. Punitive actions often backfire and delay constructive progress.  Despite claims that divestment is non-violent, it is inherently punitive since it seeks to change behavior by shaming targeted groups. The church of Jesus Christ has a moral imperative to work for peace through positive actions as described in the Great Commandments.

If parties supporting Palestinians and Israelis really want a negotiated settlement, then we all should celebrate the current peace talks process, even though significant work lies ahead. Because our ultimate hope is peace, any steps forward deserve celebration by all parties, without waiting for the final results. 

Too often, publicized statements about current and historical events are biased and incomplete.  United Methodists are urged to read disseminated material carefully and to utilize multiple sources for information. Some recent reports of annual conference and the 2012 General Conference actions include misrepresentations and errors that may create confusion for casual readers.

For example, the United Methodist Kairos press release dated June 20 referred to a Virginia Conference action for divestment taken in 2005 and omitted the more recent 2011 resolution in which the Virginia Conference expressly rejected boycott and divestment and recommended positive actions. A resolution at the 2013 New England Annual Conference was presented as important action-oriented legislation. However, the organizations with invested funds under management were specifically excluded, precluding any real action.

In addition, the defeat of all divestment language at the 2012 General Conference is ignored or re-interpreted by activists.  Divestment advocates have also interpreted and incorrectly reported actions taken by TIAA-CRFF regarding SodaStream and the reasoning regarding TIAA-CRFF’s decision regarding Caterpillar stocks. These examples should motivate church leaders to carefully consider media-directed reports and to seek information from additional sources.

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August 29, 2013

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